August 12, 2020

Boot Camp Blather

By Chaplain Mike

OK, I’ve had it. I feel a rant coming on.

I’ve been commenting at a couple of sites that are known for their strong opinions (to say the least). These sites have grown louder and more shrill in recent days, shouting alarmist warnings about the faith/science debate, particularly with regard to sites like BioLogos, evolution, the age of the earth, and the interpretation of Genesis. I thought I’d trying playing on their field for awhile.

I took the same approach as I did in our “Creation Week” series here at IM. I tried not to overstep my bounds. Didn’t talk about science. Didn’t bring up the subject of evolution. Said nary a word about an old earth. Expressed no interest in trying to reconcile the disciplines of Biblical interpretation and theology with any of the sciences.

All I did was set forth my understanding of Genesis in order to show folks there might be another way to look at the text. And that therefore maybe we shouldn’t get so dang fired up about beatin’ the other side loopy.

Silly me. In their ears, folks like me speak a foreign language. And besides, who’s got time for discussion with dullards like me? The war’s on. Course is set. Time to fire up the troops. You try to talk with them, but they want to play rough. Then they ultimately dismiss you if you disagree with them. You are of no use in the battle. You may be the enemy. Probably are.

Which put my soul in a tizzy today. Where does all this Christian militarism come from anyway? Why does every issue have to be framed as “The Battle for This” and “The Battle for That”?

In one post that I read and to which I responded, a well-known teacher used the following language:

  • We must not make “friendly alliances.”
  • We must not “surrender ground.”
  • Now is the time to “take a stand.”
  • It is our duty to “be on guard” against views that are “hostile to the truth.”
  • We must “expose” and “vigorously oppose” such views.
  • Now is no time for “retreat” or “compromise.”

And the final dire warning:

  • To weaken our commitment to the biblical view of creation would start a chain of disastrous moral, spiritual, and theological ramifications in the church that will greatly exacerbate the terrible moral chaos that already has begun the unraveling of secular society.

That kind of talk can still push my buttons, but not at all in the way the writer intended! Instead of making me want to charge into battle, this voice of doom makes me want to yell back, “Whoa! Slow down, General Patton! Who died and appointed you commanding officer? Who gave you the right to define this conflict? Who put those warmongering words in your mouth?”

Here was your peace-loving Chaplain’s comment to all that boot camp blather:

You know, this whole debate between Christians — and I stress this particular part of the debate — could be a healthy thing in the church. But it never will be as long as people like JM keep using these military metaphors suggesting that we are war with one another. Either declare those who disagree with you heretics and your side the only legitimate Christianity, and be done with it, or find some way to engage in a positive discussion and debate. But this trench warfare where we hunker down in our own holes and lob grenades at one another from a distance across no man’s land is only destructive to the fellowship and mission of the church. Sometimes I despair of Protestantism and its unending warfare. Quote all the NT verses you want justifying your militant position. The apostles only engaged in this kind of attack when battling enemies of the Gospel. Either declare the other side enemies of the Gospel, or find a better way. Please.

I mean, come on. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, by the wars you wage against other believers for your interpretation of the Bible?” You’ve got to be kidding me.

Honestly, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Are some people simply temperamentally confrontational like this, so that they see everything in “war” terms? Do some people just love the adrenalin rush, the sense that this very moment is the point of crisis, the meaning and significance that it gives to them when they feel called to participate in some vital, do or die contest? Do some people just like to fight?

Is this just their public face, the rhetoric they take up when preaching or writing, or are they like this at home too, and when they deal with individuals or situations in their lives or in the church? How would you like a pastor with this mentality to visit you in the hospital?

How did the faith of Jesus and the apostles get turned into such a “take the hill” charge? How did the ministry of servanthood get turned into an onslaught against those whom someone defines as the forces of darkness (which includes the other churches in town)? Since when has God’s mission been about flexing one’s muscles, rising up to defeat opponents by cold logic and force of argument, berating and belittling them? Is anyone else getting tired and cynical listening to the constant drone of the “watchmen” sounding alarms, promoting fear, and issuing dire warnings of chaos to come?

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isa 30:15)

What happened to humility? to holding one’s interpretations and opinions with some sense of modesty and reserve? to abandoning the self-important delusion that the task is all up to me? to being willing to have civil discussions and debates with those who have other opinions rather than just preaching to the choir and lobbing grenades out of our protected little bunkers at the “enemy”? to loving our enemies, for heaven’s sake?

What happened to keeping the central teaching the central teaching?

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

If we’re going to “take a stand” anywhere, it should be here. Along with the other core creeds of the church, this is the central teaching that defines our faith.

  • Not a particular interpretation of Genesis.
  • Not the doctrine of inerrancy, a teaching not found in any of the foundational creeds or confessions of the church—Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.
  • Not a specific outline of eschatological events.
  • Not one’s particular approach to ecclesiology such as church structure, leadership roles, specifics about how the sacraments should be practiced, or worship styles.
  • Not positions on specific social, cultural, or political issues.

Of course, Christians may (even should) study matters like these and develop convictions about them. Fine. Just don’t make them the central teaching of the faith. Just don’t consider them beyond discussion and absolutely non-negotiable. Just don’t turn every issue into a “battle” against the world and within the family.

What happened to keeping the main thing the main thing?

The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. (Micah 6:8, GNT)

So many of the drill sergeants that are constantly in our faces telling us to shape up and get ready for battle base their harangues on “God’s Word” and the plain truth it tells us. Folks, it doesn’t get any plainer than Micah 6:8.

  • God has told us what is good. From his point of view. His opinion, not ours.
  • He has laid down his requirements for his people in plain and simple language.
  • First, do what is right (or just). Get right and be right (in Jesus) and do right (in the Spirit). Act right and treat others right.
  • Second, love lovingkindness. Make it your heart’s desire above all else to be known as a person of love. A person who shows constant, faithful, compassionate, merciful, patient, kind, and sacrificial love to family and neighbors, friends and enemies alike.
  • Third, walk humbly with God. As The Message paraphrase puts it: “And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.” Big God, little me. He must increase, I must decrease. More spotlight on him. I am content in the shadows.

Simple. Plain. Much easier to grasp than trying to determine the genre and interpretation of Genesis 1!

I don’t find it believable that this kind of person — a Micah 6:8 type of person — could possibly graduate from the evangelical version of boot camp, take up arms, and go full bore into battle. I don’t picture a person who is concerned foremost about treating others right, showing them constant love, and living out of a humble walk with God playing the part of an aggressive warrior. Do you?

It’s time we started fighting the real battle, the one that is raging within. The one against self-deception, self-exaltation, and exaggerated self-importance. The one that tells me I’ve got to protect my territory and view others with suspicion as threats to my well-being. The one that says “I am called of God to tar and feather you because you are wrong, wrong wrong!”

Of course, you know I am not advising against a healthy spirit of discernment. I am advocating against the basic lack of trust and confidence in God and his Word that turns us into such savage beasts in the ways we deal with one another.

The internet, unfortunately, makes it easier to engage in the kinds of fruitless battles that are the subject of this rant. The technology has made it possible for whole armies of faceless people to unload on each other and never have to face any consequences in real life. One blog can take on another blog. Preachers and “teachers” (and internet chaplain-monks at weak moments) have a worldwide platform from which to launch attacks. It’s Protestantism gone to cyber-seed.

But let’s not blame the transport for the troops that have boarded it.

Enough boot camp and battlefield bluster and blather. Enough I say!

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matt 26:52)

Thus endeth the rant.

Comments

  1. Denise Spencer says

    Mike, I love your rants! You’re always right-on. There’s so very much we should be joining together to fight for (like spreading the gospel to all peoples) rather than beating each other up.

  2. But military imagery has long played a role in the “church militant.” Put on the full armor of God, onward Christian soldiers, and all that. The question then becomes what to be militant about. Fundamentalists early on identified a set of “fundamentals” which they see as non-negotiable, and you are asking them to negotiate. Probably you would react similarly to suggestions that violate *your* fundamentals.

    Any attempt to reconcile evolution and Genesis is probably going to amount to an attack on Fundamentalism. In fact, it is hard to think of any other possible motive, other than sheer intellectual/spiritual curiosity (a likely story!) or perhaps, a desire to challenge atheists. So naturally the targets of your critique responded as if attacked. They are used to this. It is what binds them together as a group.

    Most Christians who do not believe in Fundamentalism, also do not bother trying to persuade the Fundamentalists. The average Catholic or Episcopalian would not care what those people think, and would consider such discussion to be a waste of time. Which raises the interesting question–why do YOU care what they think? Why do you see yourself as somehow bound to them, to the point where you feel obliged to correct them? (Oh sure, you’re both Christian, but then so are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I don’t see you writing against their beliefs.)

    • Yerkel, I certainly did not visit these sites to try and persuade anyone, but merely to do some deeper reading on how they are responding to BioLogos and other sites that claim to be trying to have discussions about science and faith. I “tested the waters” by commenting as a dissident voice, encouraging folks to realize there are other views out there and to express some of those views, which I myself hold. I wasn’t alone; there are others who are much more involved and who participate regularly to give alternate perspectives. I never planned my involvement to be long-term, and was sure at the start that my positions would be dismissed. I guess I was interested in exactly how they would dismiss them, and I wanted to test my own skills at defending those positions in a civil fashion. I was pretty amazed, however, at how hostile some of the reaction was.

      • I guess you and David Sirrine both….. both of you carried yourselves well and showed remarkable generosity of spirit under pressure. David was even able to keep something of a wry sense of humor about him, at least for 7 or 8 posts or so…. after awhile, I’m sure you feel you are talking to the sounds of the surf…. or maybe to tar balls or something.

        Sadly, one message I heard repeated over and over at GTY was: we HAVE to fight this battle… it was like a mantra or something. hmmm

        • Reread of a different thread last night and was blown away by the homework and humility demonstrated by the geologist Ken Wilgemuth. His major bullet points, David’s (Sirrine’s) and yours were pricisely the same: these are non-essentials, and many other christians have a different interpretation of the scripture they love. And all three of ya had to find a foxhole when the YEC militia declared war.

          Carole King once sang: “you can’t talk to a man….with a shotgun in his hand…” (smack water jack….if I remember right, ask JeffD, he’ll know) maybe there just is no conversation to be had with a fanatic.

          • Chaplain Mike told me many years ago, “I often think it’s more important to talk to God about people than to talk to people about God.” I know I keep quoting you, Chaplain Mike, but that sentence was life-changing for me. This may be the only approach we can take with a fanatic.

  3. It looks like accomodationist has replaced “moderate” as the dirtiest word. It seems like both sides view a moderate or accomodationist perspective as a trojan horse or slippery slope toward capitulation. Dialogue or dialectics appear hopeless. It worries me, because religion and science have historically shared common enemies – even while being at each others throats. In this age where financial centers are stealing power away from political centers. Any view – whether based in science or religion – may be suppressed if it challenges or interferes with the pursuit of profit and greed. It hearkens back to the words of the old Rush song by Neil Peart, “The Trees”, that the bickering trees will all be kept equal by hatchet, axe and saw.

  4. Chaplain,
    I hope you’ll do a post sometime where you talk more about how you view inerrancy. That’s the one item in your list above which I don’t think should be with the others (Genesis, eschatology, political issues). Your statement about it not being in any early confession is sort of like saying the word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible—it’s somewhat meaningless as an argument against inerrancy. The subject has been mentioned and briefly discussed here and there recently in the course of other discussions (some have said we should say “trustworthy and true” in order to free ourselves from baggage associated with “inerrancy”), but I’m interested in what you think it means and why you think it’s not important. Your detailed discussion of your Genesis views was very interesting and sparked a lot of good discussion—I’m very interested in what you have to say on inerrancy. Thanks. (Good post by the way and I’m with the spirit of it 100%).

    • Matthäus says

      I’m obviously not the Chaplain, but I’d imagine inerrancy is in the list because it is a doctrine of truly modern invention (19th century, along with so much other bad theology) that often goes far beyond what the Bible actually says about itself (a la 2 Tim 3:16). Honest Christians tend to disagree over it, and many have strong feelings about it. I’ve personally seen too many use it as an excuse to be (much) less than civil with other Christians because of minor points of disagreement to consider it good theology. It almost always ends in someone confusing the inerrancy of the scriptures with the inerrancy of their interpretation of the scriptures, an excellent example of which is the blog post that inspired CM’s rant.

    • Thanks, Jeff. For starters, you can check out the iMonk Classic post today from Michael Spencer. I would line up pretty closely with what he says there.

    • Jeff, one more thing. The difference that I see between something like “Trinity” and “inerrancy” is that even though the word “Trinity” itself is not used, the doctrine is spelled out very clearly in the creeds. In fact, it is the main point of the Nicene Creed. So the teaching summarized by the word was stated clearly and comprehensively by the early church. Such teaching about the Bible was not so clearly spelled out. Even in the later confessions, such as Augsburg and Westminster, where one would think “sola scriptura” would have led them to include at least the concepts of inerrancy, they did not. Michael points out in his post, and I agree with him, that Westminster’s statement is perhaps the finest statement about Scripture ever written. Inerrancy doesn’t figure in it, however.

  5. For a couple of days I see overly sentimental (to me, at least) posts by the female authors here, and I think “Oh no, what on earth is this blog coming to?” And then I see a nice juicy rant like this and I think “Now that’s what I’m talking about!!!!!” Which goes to show that you are doing your job; you have created a place where there is something for virtually everyone. I am sure that there are many readers who are turned off by these rants but love the pieces that I consider to be overly sentimental. And perhaps I could do with a bit more sentimentality and less ranting.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Post-Evangelicalism:

    Too much Boot Camp Blather and you get the Bugout Boogie.

  7. If you really think this issue isn’t worthy of the attention it’s getting, then by all means, lead by examply and blog about something more interesting. Also, you should get out more. There are ‘conservative reformed’ types who don’t camp on Genesis and yound earth arguments. It’ seems you consistantly find a person or goup who is a bad example of something in the Christian faith and then assume it as being held by everyone who falls in that demographic. it gets old.

    • TJ: who exactly are you talking to ? I’m guessing Chaplain mike, but don’t want to assume too much. Thanks.

  8. Sensible Joe says

    Today’s moral and spiritual problems aren’t caused by any of the issues on which the contemporary religious right fixates as self-appointed “warriors.” They’re caused by self-identified Christians who refuse to behave in a Christlike manner. When you see people wearing Jesus as a badge, but barking that defense spending is indispensable while social welfare is expendable, or supporting militarism over nonviolence, or speaking and behaving nastily when it comes to minorities, the marginalized and those who disagree with him, or refusing to share their comfortable middle-class suburban existence with others less fortunate, the gospel of Jesus Christ justifiably seems like a bunch of hooey nobody would believe in. Christianity is meant to be a lifestyle of humbly imitating Jesus Christ’s example — not a theological justification for giving religious sanction to modern American materialism, consumerism, militarism and exclusiveness.

    • Christianity is meant to be a lifestyle of humbly imitating Jesus Christ’s example —

      love that……now for the application part 🙂
      Greg R